Laying down the law
Reginald Tolton never bored as GNWT lawyer

Dawn Ostrem
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 12/00) - Director of the GNWT legal division may not seem like the most exciting job but Reginald Tolton says he hasn't been bored once in the last eight years.

He heads the department that provides legal services to the government and says the political issues here related to legal matters are just as important as those elsewhere in the country.

"The broad reasons that make one really want to be a lawyer in this government are because we're doing a lot of things a province would do and that's because we are almost a province in many ways," Tolton explains from his office in the Yellowknife courthouse.

"To me there are exciting legal issues facing us. There's fascinating legal work to do and we're doing it with 10 people."

He added that British Columbia's legal division has about 100 lawyers while the federal government's legal team consists of about 2,400.

After leaving private practice in Manitoba, Tolton moved North to head the department and added the main political and legal issues here revolve around land claim negotiations -- an area in which the NWT serves as a model to the rest of the country.

"What's happening in the territories is probably on the cutting edge of what's happening in the country," he says.

"There's some very creative approaches. Perhaps it's because the political situation in the North is so different from most regions in the south.

"The difference is reaching consensus on what these changes should be and that has to be looked at in the context of all self-government negotiations that are going on."

Tolton says his department is currently working on close to 10 negotiating tables with aboriginal groups and three have been settled so far.

Details about active cases are remote due to their legal nature but Tolton says other cases the department is working on include a lawsuit by the federal Franco-TeNoise. They are alleging the federal and territorial governments have not provided enough services in French.

Other issues include contract negotiations with businesses in the private sector working for the government and other governmental bodies.

Tolton said about 50 per cent of his time is taken up administering the division along with working on its files.

"Much of the requests for work are co-ordinated by me and I decide who would be best suited and has time for the work," he says.

"And I probably wouldn't have stayed here for eight years if I didn't really like it. It's a very good department to work for.

"We've had some excellent people work here and have excellent people who work here now and great support in terms of support staff."